Irving Oil is building a new rail terminal in east Saint John, which has one environmentalist worried and calling for the the project to halt pending more information and an impact assessment.
Company spokeswoman Carolyn Van der Veen confirmed the expansion, saying it will improve Irving’s "ability to receive and deliver product."
But she declined to discuss the content of the rail cars that will be arriving at the new terminal, located at the end of the Causeway, on Bayside Drive.
"What I can offer is that we receive crudes from all over the world," Van der Veen stated in an email.
"Like any other refiner in eastern Canada, we encourage the availability of crude from other sources, including western crude."
Clean air activist Gordon Dalzell says the company's "lack of openness and transparency" is "unacceptable" when public safety and the environment are at stake.
"What's being proposed down here is a rail terminal where up to 69,000 barrels of crude oil, from parts of the U.S. — shale oil — is going to be transported here by train, arrive here at this location and be unloaded and used for refining at the Irving Oil refinery," Dalzell said.
The crude oil will travel thousands of miles over land and near the St. John River — all without an environmental impact assessment by the Department of Environment, he said.
"I’m quite alarmed about it," said Dalzell, citing spills and emissions as possible risks.
He says environmental officials have told him the terminal does not trigger an environmental assessment because it's only a spur line, not an expansion of the main railroad.
"What happens if there's an incident? It's just a horrific worry of one of these trains toppling over into the environment," said Dalzell, noting two trains have derailed in the city in recent months.
In March, a dozen CN rail cars that were carrying potash went off the tracks and four of them flipped onto their sides, spilling some of the potash on the ground.
In May, three NB Southern Railway cars carrying spin acid, molten sulphur and crude oil also left the tracks but no leaks occurred.
"This project should stop completely until there is public disclosure, public review and a full environmental impact assessment by the key stakeholders and the community at large," said Dalzell.
A test train carrying crude from North Dakota recently arrived at the terminal, according to railroad enthusiasts in the U.S., who posted a film of it on YouTube.
Bob Grindrod, president of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, told CBC News he's hauling another trainload of Dakota crude from Montreal to Saint John soon, possibly later this month.
But he's not sure what Irving Oil has planned.
"We are not certain what Irving Oil wants to do at this point. I don’t know if this is in the experimental stages, or…you know, I don’t have direct contact with the Irving Oil people."
Western oil is about 30 per cent cheaper than Brent crude from the North Sea. Some preliminary estimates suggest Irving Oil could save as much as $30,000 per tank car in raw product costs.
John Herron, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, says eastern refineries can save signifcantly by buying western product "given the fact that oil is about $25 cheaper per barrel there than it would be on the world market.
"So if they were, even, to get a substantial quantity, of their fuel stock from western Canada, it would make the refinery that much more competitive by averaging down the cost of their fuel stock," Herron said.